Steve Stricker played in the final grouping at this year's British Open.
Aug. 15, 2007
Edgerton, Wis. - Illinois graduate Steve Stricker has been playing the best golf of his career of late. He has qualified for the President's Cup, ranks 10th in the 2008 Ryder Cup Standings, and played in the final grouping at the British Open after firing a 64 in the third round. Stricker has three career tour victories and over $2.6 million in season earnings. He was named the PGA Tour's Comeback Player of the Year in 2006.
The native of Edgerton, Wis., played on several strong Illinois squads in the mid 1980s, including a Big Ten championship team. He returns to town this weekend for the annual Steve Stricker Golf Classic to help raise money for the Illini golf program.
Stricker took time out of his busy schedule on tour to answer a few of our questions.
You have had a terrific season so far. Can you expound on the success you have had?
It's been another great season. It started last year and it has continued into this year. I have had a lot of exciting times this last year, but I don't want to stop there.
What was the key to your turnaround last year?
It started at the end of the '05 season when I spent a lot of time in the winter on my game, hitting balls here in Wisconsin and just trying to work out a few of the little glitches I thought I had both mentally and physically. Fortunately I was able to get in some tournaments where I played well at the first part of the '06 season. The things that I had been working on seemed to be working. My misses were a little bit better and the good shots were better. It just seemed to fuel the fire. My confidence was growing and it kept going as the year was going along.
You're known as one of the better short game players on tour. Describe the pride you feel in that and what specific things do you do to prepare that part of your game?
I take a lot of pride in the short game. There a lot of players out there that if they had a decent short game; those players could save a lot of strokes, especially on tour. If you don't strike the ball well on a particular day, you can really save a lot of shots and a bad round. I guess for me it just came natural. It stems from when I was a junior golfer as a little kid in Wisconsin learning to play the game. I grew up on a course in Edgerton where we didn't have a range, so I spent a lot of time out on the golf course and learned to chip and putt and score my way around the course.
What role did coming to Illinois play in the progression of your game?
It was the right choice to come to Illinois. I got along really well with Coach Beard. Getting away from home and growing as a person and a golfer was important. Illinois helped me to do that. I learned a lot down there. The conditions in the Midwest provided me an opportunity to expand my game and learn different shots. It was a pretty important piece for me in my development as a player.
What was it like playing with Mike Small and some of the other players on those teams?
We had great chemistry on most of our teams. What I remember most is not so much the golf, but the times we spent off the golf course together. After we won the Big Ten championship, we all had a party. The parents were there and it was just a great family atmosphere. When the season was over, Coach Beard still had us together doing some weight training and some running. We would play some pick-up basketball games together. We did have some success along the way. It has been nice to see Mike take over at Illinois and grow the program there.
How special was it to watch Coach Small's progression at the PGA Championship?
If I wasn't out there playing, I was checking him out on the computer to see how he was doing. It was a great accomplishment for him being the low PGA professional. The whole week was pretty remarkable. It's a testament to Mike and his game and his desire and ability to play well.
What does it mean to come back for the Steve Stricker Golf Classic?
That was an idea Mike had as soon as he became head coach. It's a very proud and satisfying moment for me to spend just a day there and raise money for his team for the year. To spend the time at a place that means a lot to me is important because it served a large role in my development as a player.
What does it mean to make the President's Cup team and have you had a chance to reflect your standing among the top players in the world?
It's a huge accomplishment for me, especially from where I came from three or four years ago. It just shows that this hard work has paid off. I'm excited to be on that team. My game has been solid. I had a little hiccup in the first round of the PGA, but I came back strong the next three. It has been long year because the schedule has been different with the new FedEx Cup format in tournaments. I find myself wandering in my focus, but my game is good. I continue to work on my putting a lot. Hopefully I can finish off the season strong.
How do you determine what tournaments to play?
A lot depends on whether you get in the majors or not. I've been fortunate enough to play in all four majors this year; it has been a while since I've done that. There were also World Golf Championship events that I was eligible for and tournaments that I have enjoyed playing in the past.
Give some of the secrets of your success and tips that you can help other golfers in their game?
For me personally, I haven't given up. That holds true in the course of a round as well and goes back to me junior golf days. I've never had a round where I've packed it in when things are going bad. There are days when you are going to shoot a high score no matter what you try to do, but I continually try to improve my score because I know the next day could be different. If I can save a shot or two in that bad-round day, it just makes it that much easier on the next day. That's what happened to me this weekend at the PGA. It didn't get me back in the tournament to win, but at least it allowed me to save a good finish.
Talk about the relationships you have with other golfers on the tour.
I've been out there for quite awhile now and you develop a lot of relationships along the way. I'm generally reserved in my own space for the most part. I play practice rounds with various people all the time, including some fellow Wisconsin golfers, Jerry Kelly and JP Hayes. I feel like I'm a part of that group out there again where there was a period of time when I wasn't playing so well that I felt like I was kind of an outsider. It feels good to be playing well again and feeling like it's where I belong.
When there was down time, there were people that stood strong by me and helped me out along the way.
What does the rest of the year look like for you?
It's going to be pretty hectic. The FedEx Tournaments are coming up starting next week in Westchester, New York. Hopefully I'll be playing in the Tour Championship. Then I'll have a week off before the President's Cup at the end of September. So hopefully I'll be playing five of the next six weeks. Then I'll call it quits for a month and half to two months before I'll start it up again.